How to Photograph Events Pt III ...
This is Part III of IV in a series of tutorials, looking at event photography and in particular the Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2015. The tutorials are primarily for the benefit of the volunteer photographers at the festival, however if others gain some inspiration or knowledge from these articles, please feel free to share your comments at the end of the tutorial.
Many images used are by previous volunteer photographers and are courtesy of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. My thanks to all for their permission to use their images.
- Part I Read it here
- Part II Read it here
- Part III In this month we will be looking at working with light and how to capture images at all times of the day and the tips and tricks that enable you to capture great shots, even in the midday sun.
- Part IV Month four will be the final one in the series and will look at working with people. In particular how to approach strangers to get shots you want. We will look at the types of shots you might consider to enhance these images. Working with people also brings up the concerns of Model Releases, so we will look at this briefly as well.
Working with Light
This is potentially an enormous subject. It is after all what Photography is all about. So let's set some objectives here first. As before we are looking at How to Photograph Events in particular, the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and the subjects we are most likely to find there. An event that starts around 9am and runs through to late evening. Of course there are photographic opportunities outside of these times as well, but we'll leave those for now. I also assume a reasonable knowledge of photography (if you are beginning do not be deterred, I am happy to help clarify any areas). These are the parameters of this tutorial.
Bright Light (10am - 2pm ish)
Light in the middle of the day, offers two main opportunities, firstly capturing strong contrasts or details and secondly the opportunity to photograph in areas that are normally too dark to capture images. I'll come back to the latter shortly.
Using Polarising Filters
Shooting in the harsh light of midday (10am-2pm ish), will result in strong shadows, brilliant highlights and normally washed out colours. So how do we get around these problems? Firstly, colours can be improved with the use of a Polarising filter. Be aware when using these, some are Circular filters. They need to be rotated at the end of your lens to find the point when the polarising has the optimum effect, (ie where it cuts out the most glare).
Expose for highlights or shadows
The second issue; controlling shadows or highlights (what is known as the Dynamic Range, (the difference between blackest black and whitest white) can be handled two ways using only the camera. Here the subject will often dictate which has priority. If you are photographing a person against a bright background, the person will be the priority and thus what you expose for.
Alternately you may wish to capture a silhouette in which case the bright area becomes the priority and the area you expose for. Both these examples are if you only have the opportunity to get one shot. Using spot metering will help in both examples. Alternatively use Exposure Compensation, in conjunction with your preferred metering mode.
For a third way, a fill in flash or reflector, can help narrow the dynamic range allowing the camera to capture an image we may consider more natural.
If your subject is stationery, then you can use Exposure Bracketing. This is when you take a series of identically framed/focused shots firstly exposing for shadows and working towards exposing for the highlights (or vice versa). Generally three to five shots, 1 f-stop apart, will suffice, some cameras will allow you to automatically take 7 shots. These shots can then be loaded into a program like Photoshop or Photomatrix, where the images can be blended automatically or manually to manufacture an HDR image that has the correct exposure throughout. Use a tripod! and don't refocus or move the camera during the series of shots. Check your camera manual to see if/how your camera can take multiple exposure bracketed shots.
Midday light second option
Midday light also offers a second opportunity which I mentioned earlier. With the abundance of bright light, it stands to reason many of the shady areas will be brighter than normal. However, the light will be a lot softer. For example you could be in a corridor between buildings, or beneath a market stall canopy, under a tree... you get the idea. All locations would normally block enough light to make it difficult to capture something with a degree of movement eg a person walking. These now become great places to photograph.
When moving into these areas be aware of artificial lights that may throw your colour cast out. Marquees for example typically have fluorescent lights, which are dramatically different in colour to daylight.
Look under peoples hats (especially the broad brimmed ones) and umbrellas, these too soften the light. Be prepared to use fill in flash as well, preferably with a diffuser in place. If you don't have a diffuser, bounce it off a wall or ceiling. And of course don't forget reflectors. All will help get your shots.
Cloudy and Overcast Light
Overcast days are generally associated with flat light. Colours are hard to push and contrasts are lifeless. Cloudy (days where clouds keep blocking and the revealing the sun), provide a combination of opportunities. Let's look at flat light first.
Around the marina these days are generally the best to capture your wide shots of the boats. There are many shiny surfaces that will still play havoc with light meters, but the dynamic range is more manageable. It is easier to chase the information in the shadows, whilst still controlling most highlights.
Likewise crowd shots, buskers, performing artists etc are easier to capture. This flexibility does need a note of caution. Being able to take a wider range of shots means a greater concentration on content (the story) in the images.
Cloudy days where the sun is there one minute and gone the next, provide perhaps the greatest challenge to photographers. Particularly when capturing action and events. You will have a shot lined up and then the sun disappears leaving the image flat and lifeless. The trick is to capture the image just as the sun is breaking from or disappearing into the cloud. This gives enough light to capture the image but also softens the highlights enough, to reduce the dynamic range.
Yes, they happen. Although it is summer when this event is running, it is worth being prepared. Aside from gear preparations, ie having a cover for your camera and lens(es) an umbrella and rain gear for yourself; it is worth making the effort.
Why I hear you ask? How many times have you looked at the reflections in lakes or on the sea at sunset? Imagine a whole town full of similar reflections. There are great opportunities for Bokeh effects. Do you get miserable when it rains? Or are you one of the happy folk who love to dance in it? People react quiet dramatically to the rain. They make for equally dramatic photo opportunities.
Be prepared to take a few umbrellas out, with different colours. Have a bright colour one to cheer up a location. Streets scenes are difficult to capture because the sky is often a lot brighter, even when it is raining. Use umbrellas to part frame your images or block the highlights from the sky. They can be much more, than a protector from the rain.
The sheer scale of this subject has meant that there are many areas that have been mentioned without much explanation within this article; techniques, equipment and parlance. If there are questions about any areas, please feel free to ask (there is an email link below or use any of the Social media links), I will be happy to explain them.
For the most part, I have tried to provide a level of awareness of different ways to approach your photography no matter what the circumstances, ahead of the event to enable you to practice and play. A great deal of events photography is planning. You may not be able to get a certain shot during a particular part of the day. Study the light and work out when you can take it. Your shots will be better for it.
There are some however, that will not wait. These are the ones to be prepared for: How do you capture a performer in mid show in bright light? How do you capture that kid playing in the rain and puddles? How do you cover the Opening ceremony when it rains and everyone has an umbrella up?
Now it is play time. So it is over to you. Good luck!
Still feel like you are heading for a disaster?
© Robert Oates | BALLANTYNE Photography Travel and Events Photography and Editorial